TRIBUTES have been paid this week to a popular local businessman who died after falling from his horse in Lauder on New Year’s Day.
Paul Watson, 61, fractured his skull when he was unseated just inside the 30mph limits at the south of the town and was later pronounced dead in the Borders General Hospital.
The tragedy marred the annual January 1 meet of the Lauderdale Hunt which had attracted around a dozen mounted supporters and several hundred townsfolk.
Mr Watson was not part of the hunt but had ridden into town from his home at North Sorrowlessfield near Earlston to enjoy the occasion.
A Western riding enthusiast, he was using a traditional deep-seated saddle with a prominent pommel and wearing a stetson rather than a hard hat.
The accident happened shortly after 11am when horses and hounds had headed south along the A68 from outside the Town Hall en route for Blainslie.
It appears that Mr Watson was unseated and struck his head on the road after his mount bolted behind the main body of riders.
He was treated at the scene by a nurse who was part of the hunt before being conveyed to hospital.
Many of the hunters were unaware of the incident or the severity of Mr Watson’s injuries. When news filtered through, the hunt was halted in the early afternoon.
A statement from Lauderdale Hunt stated: “We have learned with sorrow of the death of Paul Watson following a tragic accident which occurred at the New Year’s Day meet at Lauder on Saturday.
“We understand that Mr Watson had come to the meet on his horse purely as a spectator, intending to return home immediately afterwards. Unfortunately, it appears that as the hunt moved off from Lauder Square, Mr Watson’s horse became agitated, got out of his control and galloped after the main body of riders along the A68, resulting in his becoming unseated, being thrown from the saddle and striking his head on the roadway.
“Hunt Master Tim Coulson and other hunt members immediately went to his aid and summoned medical assistance which arrived promptly and Mr Watson was taken to Borders General Hospital.
“We are all deeply shocked at this loss of a respected member of the local farming community, and keen supporter and good friend of the hunt, and wish to express our sincere condolences to all members of his family in their sudden and tragic bereavement.”
Mr Watson’s close friend and fellow Western riding enthusiast, Archie Fisher, said he was “devastated” by the accident.
“Paul was a lovely man and his appearance in Lauder added to the colour and atmosphere of the day,” said Mr Fisher.
“We had been together chatting when the stirrup cup was drunk and he was in fine spirits ... he was basically there for the craic.
“It’s all the more tragic to think that Paul could still be with us if he had been wearing a hard hat.”
The invitation for the Lauderdale Hunt to meet in the town has been extended by the Lauder’s burgesses (originally common land owners) whose spokesman Peter Middlemiss told us: “It had been such a happy day with fine weather and a big crowd with Mr Watson very much part of the scene.
“Not everyone was aware of the freak accident, but when the news came through the hunt was stopped early.
“I know the burgesses want to pass on their sincere condolences to Mr Watson’s family.”
Graeme Donald, former chairman of Lauderdale Community Council, said: “Townsfolk are stunned that Mr Watson has lost his life in these tragic circumstances. Our thoughts are very much with his family.”
Paul Watson, a member of a well-known farming family, is understood to have recently retired from his business Border Land Rovers which lovingly restored and reconditioned the famous off-road vehicles. “He was a very talented and contented family man who had just built a beautiful house at North Sorrowlessfield. He will be sadly missed,” said another friend.
A funeral service for Mr Watson, who is survived by his teacher wife Elspeth and three children, will be held at Earlston Parish Church at noon on Monday, followed by burial at North Sorrowlessfield. All family and friends are invited.
Mr Watson’s death casts into sharp focus the issue of riders wearing hard hats, especially in a region with so much equestrian activity.
A spokesman for the British Horse Society said: “Wearing a hard hat is not compulsory, but we always recommend people have protective headgear when riding a horse ... to minimise the risk of head injuries.”
A spokeswoman and approved instructress from the Western Riding Society told us: “What happened in Lauder is deeply unfortunate.
“Unless the circumstances are exceptional, we encourage the use of protective headgear at all times.Only in a controlled environment, such as a soft surface in an arena and with very experience riders, do exponents of Western riding go without hard hats.”
For several years, hard hats have been mandatory at all the region’s common ridings and equestrian festivals.
“Anyone turning up for any of our ride-outs without protective headgear is simply turned away and that goes for all the festivals,” said a spokesman for Hawick Common Riding.
“To my knowledge, only in Jedburgh where the Jethart Callant and his principals wear berets at the start of the ceremonies, is an exception made, but as soon as the ride starts they put on their protective headgear.
“There is a strong groundswell of opinion across the equestrian community in the Borders that the wearing of hard hats should be compulsory and Saturday’s tragedy merely re-enforces that message.”